When I tell people that I’m fostering three hamsters, I know to expect a funny reaction. To anyone who knows me, it seems like my love of animals, especially small ones, taken to a newer, sillier depth. To anyone else, it’s a completely strange idea. There are rescues out there, not for big animals like dogs and cats, but completely dedicated to hamsters, guinea pigs, rats, and mice? Why even bother? There are so many of them, and they only live a few years anyway. Most of them will probably never be placed in permanent homes. What’s the point?
From a utilitarian perspective, yes, there’s not much point in fostering small animals. Dogs and cats are easier to place and live longer, so opening another dog or cat rescue would result in more years of more animals in loving homes. However, I am not a utilitarian. I don’t believe that the question should be “What would optimize happiness?” but rather “What is the right thing to do?” The second question is much more slippery, but where living animals are concerned, I think it becomes clear.
Life is valuable. It should not be wantonly thrown away, no matter how small the animal is or how long it is likely to live. Just because they’re small and reproduce quickly doesn’t mean that it’s okay to treat hamsters as disposable, yet that’s the mentality: people think of them as good first pets for children because it won’t matter if the kid squeezes it to death or forgets to feed it. Hamsters get released or abandoned when they’re no longer wanted, though tragically this is common for all kinds of pet animals. Because they are sometimes mistreated and neglected, there is need for small animal rescues.
At this point, you may be about to point out that I’m not a vegetarian, so I must be internally inconsistent. After all, farm animals’ lives are valuable too. I don’t think this is necessarily inconsistent. I’ll only briefly outline my view here, but basically, we live in a world where death is necessary to support life. Killing animals is not always wrong if it is for a purpose, such as food. However, animals should never die for the sake of human entertainment or because of human laziness or apathy. This is why I’m against hunting: People should not kill things for fun. There are also arguments to be made that animals with more awareness of their surroundings and more capacity to feel pain have more rights than those that have less, and that we, as humans, have more of a responsibility towards animals that are more like us.
In the case of pet animals, though, none of these complications apply. We don’t gain food or clothing or anything else through their deaths. Hamsters are small and need to be protected. Just ask Inky, Pinky, and Clyde.